June is almost over which means HALF of this year has gone by and that’s kind of crazy?! I mean, people say this every year, but I think we can all agree that 2020 and 2021 have been far from normal, so realizing we have lived through almost 1.5 years of pandemic just sounds ridiculous. Trying to look on the bright side, the numerous lockdowns, working from home, social distancing and isolation have opened up a lot of reading time for many of us, me included. I am doing okay as far as reading goals go, although work has been absolutely insane these past months and I’m glad it’s now looking like things will quiet down a bit.
So, on to the Mid-Year Freak Out Tag in which you shall see quite a few repeat offenders, one of which is (unsurprisingly) by my favoritest of authors. It’s not my fault she’s brilliant…
Best Book You Read So Far in 2021
Easily The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (review goes up on July 19th), although I have some other favorites like All The Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, a gothic fairy tale-esque novel about a woman breaking free from her family and finding her own place in a decidedly magical world, or The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, a post climate change YA novel about two sisters trying to find and save each other in a hostile world. And, the only non-2021 title, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune, which stole my heart so fast I didn’t even know what was happening.
Interestingly, all of these are ocean-themed. In one, there’s nothing left but oceans plus an island of floating garbage, in the second, the ocean is what keeps the protagonist sisters apart, in the third, it’s where the mermaids live who have made a bargain with the protagonist’s family and in the last one, the island setting is in the sea… I always find it funny when I look back on my reading and realize that I’ve been reading on a theme without noticing. 🙂
Best Sequel Read in 2021
- Octavia E. Butler – Parable of the Talents
- Terry Pratchett – Small Gods
- Arkady Martine – A Desolation Called Peace
- Tade Thompson – The Rosewater Insurrection
- Katherine Addison – The Witness for the Dead
Two new releases and three older ones is a good mix, I think. The Discworld novel is not technically a sequel, although it is book 13 in the series. But as it’s not part of either of the sub-series and stands perfectly well on its own, I kind of smuggled it onto this list, simply because I adored it and wanted to mention it here.
Both Arkady Martine’s followup to the amazeballs A Memory Called Empire and Addison’s companion/sequel to the beloved The Goblin Emperor weren’t quite as good as their predecessors, but that doesn’t mean much. They are still both very good novels that gave me more of what I loved in the first book.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Like every year: So many!
- P. Djèlí Clark – A Master of Djinn
- C. L. Clark – The Unbroken
- Joanna Ruth Meyer – Into the Heartless Woods
- Ava Reid – The Wolf and the Woodsman
- Tasha Suri – The Jasmine Throne
- Nghi Vo – The Chosen and the Beautiful
- Helene Wecker – The Hidden Palace
- Maggie Stiefvater – Mister Impossible
- Nicole Kornher-Stace – Firebreak
- Martha Wells – Fugitive Telemetry
- Naomi Kritzer – Chaos on CatNet
- M. A. Carrick – The Mask of Mirrors
- Rivers Solomon – Sorrowland
And then some, but these are the ones that feel the most urgent. Yes, I have a problem.
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
- Jordan Ifueko – Redemptor
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is Red (already read this – it’s perfect!)
- Catherynne M. Valente – Comfort Me With Apples (already read this – super creepy!)
- T. J. Klune – Under the Whispering Door
- Fonda Lee – Jade Legacy
- Linden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel
- Ryka Aoki – Light From Uncommon Stars
- Becky Chambers – A Psalm for the Wild-Built
- Shelley Parker-Chan – She Who Became the Sun
- Brandon Sanderson – Cytonic
- Andrea Stewart – The Bone Shard Emperor
- Zoraida Córdova – The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
The Green Bone Saga is coming to an end and I am HYPED! The same goes for Jordan Ifueko’s duology which started with Raybearer (more on that below). We see continuations of Linden A. Lewis’ First Sister series, the Bone Shard universe by Andrea Stewart, as well as Sanderson’s Skyward series, all of which I enjoy a lot. Becky Chambers is starting a new series of novellas, involving a robot and a tea monk (I mean, how could I not want this?), and T. J. Klune offers what is hopefully another heartwarming story like Cerulean Sea. Ryka Aoki and Zoraida Córdova‘s books are on my radar because either I keep hearing about them (Aoki) or the cover is striking (Córcova). Plus, I’ve read Córdova before and like what she does with culture and fantasy.
I’ve already read both of Cat Valente’s upcoming novellas and they are EXCELLENT, although very different in subject and tone. The Past is Red is a post climate-change novel that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful and so, so clever. Comfort Me With Apples is wonderfully eerie but I recommend going into it as blank as possible. The less you know, the more fun you’ll have. There are lots of moments that will make you scratch your head and wonder what the hell is going on. In the best of ways.
Persephone Station by Stina Leicht, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and FINNA by Nino Cipri.
This is always such a sad question to answer because obviously, nobody sets out to read a book in order to dislike it. Disappointments can take many forms and have many sources. Was the book overhyped and simply didn’t live up to the expectations? Was the synopsis misleading? Is the plot/style/character development lacking? Is it none of the above and the book simply didn’t fit my current reading mood? It could be any or all of those things but no matter the reason, I would much rather have liked these books. I’m glad, however, that it was only these three.
Did everyone read a different FINNA than I did? The idea sounds sooooo great and really quite funny (a wormhole opens up in fictional IKEA and two unhappy and recently broken up employees have to go in to save a lost grandma) but the world-hopping didn’t work in novella format because things get too hectic and there’s no time for proper world building. The characters were one-dimensional (a gender identity isn’t a person, it’s just one part of a human being!) and the writing wasn’t very engaging. As this is nominated for several awards, I expected a lot more.
In the case of Persephone Station it wasn’t expectations or hype, I just didn’t think the book was very good. It lacks focus and it doesn’t ever manage to make its characters truly come to life. Props for representation but there was so little else there that I can’t even remember much of anything. A hundred SF ideas were shoved into it without ever executing any one of them properly, so it ended up as a big old mess.
Now The Dark is Rising is interesting because not only has it won lots of awards, it’s considered a classic of both children’s literature and fantasy and I Just. Don’t. See. Why. You literally don’t know what’s going on most of the time because the protagonist is a passive bag of meat who’s being shoved around by some immortal magical beings who also don’t tell him shit, except when it’s too late and then he still doesn’t do anything active but just waits around for the next magical being to save his ass and hand him some magical artifact. And it’s all got to do with King Arthur, apparently. I have great respect for any child who stuck with this because I don’t think child-me would have had the patience.
John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire was a book I expected to not enjoy very much. I have nothing against Space Opera and nothing against Scalzi as a person, but I haven’t warmed to his writing very much. The few reviews I’ve seen hinted at this being rather shallow, an action movie kind of book. And while it was definitely as exciting as an action movie, I found much more to like in it than that. Yes, the characters are a little bland but in light of what else the novel has to offer, I was okay with that. Whatever the reasons for it, I didn’t want to put the book down, ever, and immediately after finishing it, I loaded the sequel onto my e-reader.
Favorite New Author
I’m glad I can list several new (potential) favorites here:
I have read one book each by these authors and they all resonated with me and made me want more. So now I have one or more other books by these authors on my TBR which will determine whether I’ve truly found new favorites or just authors who wrote one book I really liked. I have my suspicions, though, that I will end up loving the second book by all of them as much as I did the first.
New Favorite Character
Tetley Abednego from The Past is Red. She’s a ray of sunshine in a world of grey, she’s smart and loving and eternally hopeful. She makes me want to find whatever happiness I can in this messed-up place that is our world. I also want to be best friends with her and together win 8th Best Daffodil at some contest. 🙂
A Book That Made You Cry
Small Gods because Terry Pratchett writes characters that are so human you feel like you know them. And then he sends them out on adventures that sometimes go well, sometimes not so much, but there’s always a feeling of truth to the Discworld. Brutha was an amazing protagonist who has a secure spot in my heart.
Quite different but similarly endearing is Linus Baker in T. J. Klune’s House in the Cerulean Sea, a book that exceeded my expectations but gave me exactly what I had hoped for. Warm feelings, a sense of belonging, a lovely found family, and some ugly-cry moments.
A Book That Makes You Happy
The House in the Cerulean Sea obviously. I can’t think of a more wholesome, happiness-inducing book that I’ve read recently. Yes, it also made me cry. It’s just that kind of book. A close second is A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking which is by T. Kingfisher, so it’s got her particular sense of humor that I love. It’s also clever and heartwarming and just so much fun.
Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year
I’m not aware of anything other than Shadow and Bone but, yes, I did watch and enjoy its first season. After some initial pacing problems and storyline-combining, timeline-ignoring shenanigans, I actually liked it a lot. The actors are great, it’s visually beautiful, and nothing was ruined so far. That doesn’t sound like high praise but the show does a lot of things right. I was surprised at how much I cared about the Nina and Matthias story because, although I liked that bit in the Six of Crows duology, it was never my favorite. Alina and Mal’s relationship is shown beautifully through their letters and flashbacks, the Darkling is just as hot as he should be (and I’m just as uninterested as I was when I read the books), and it all seems to be coming together.
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
So none of these books are actually here yet because they’re all pre-orders. But I am so excited about the special editions of Raybearer and Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko. I am apparently the only person who doesn’t like the UK covers and while I love the character illustration on the US covers, I am not a fan of the bright colors and all that glitter. But I adore Raybearer and absolutely needed a paper copy! So I grabbed these two beauties with stunning ombre sprayed edges. They’ll be arriving sometime in August or September, I think.
I’ve only had the eARC of The Past is Red to stare at, but that cover is not only gorgeous but also so full of little details that you don’t see the first time you look. It gets even cooler when you’ve read the book and discover that those details have meaning and aren’t just there because they look cool (although they do that, too). I can’t wait to hold the paper copy in my hands and just stare at it for a while.
Honorable mention to The Ones We’re Meant to Find (see first question).
What Books Do You Need to Read By the End of the Year
HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA why is this question even here? My TBR pile looks like an entire mountain range at this point, but okay, priorities can be set and certain books want to be read more urgently than others. Excluding all the books I’m reading for this year’s Hugo Awards and the new releases I’ve already mentioned above, here are my top need-to-read books for the rest of the year:
- Andrzej Sapkowski – The Time of Contempt
- Tamora Pierce – The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
- Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog
- Iain Banks – Consider Phlebas
- Brandon Sanderson – Rhythm of War
- Walter M. Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
- Holly Black – Tithe
- Laini Taylor – Night of Cake and Puppets
- Lauren Beukes – Afterland
- Roshani Chokshi – The Star-Touched Queen
Reading Goal/Challenges Status
- Goodreads goal: 52/100
- Beat the Backlist: 17/53 (2 books to go for a Bingo)
- Black Authors: 6/20
- New Releases: 10/??
There you have it. I’d say the first half of 2021 was pretty successful, reading-wise. With only a few disappointments but many very good books and several new favorites I really can’t complain. As usual, the Hugo Awards prove to be super rewarding, not only because it’s fun to participate in the community and to vote in the actual awards, but also because reading the finalists shows me new aspects of SFF and leads me down literary roads I would otherwise not have taken.
For someone who wouldn’t have picked up an Urban Fantasy series (because the ones I tried didn’t grab me that much), I am now slowly but steadily catching up on the October Daye series and enjoying it. I also never thought I’d pick up this particular John Scalzi trilogy but, even as I type this, I can’t wait to get started on the next book and find out what happens next!
Now let’s hope the second half of 2021 brings us back to some resemblance of normal and, of course, lots and lots of great books. 😉